Tag Archives: NCAA

In Praise of Small Senior Elementary Schools

As a consultant and a Director of Enrollment I have encountered the problem of parents second guessing the value of a small school for their children as they approach the senior elementary years.

It is usually a question of balancing a tween’s social needs with their educational needs. Socially, senior elementary students are looking for more activities like dances and more athletic opportunities, things smaller schools can struggle with or are unable to provide. Yet Grade 7 and 8 students are not quite ready to be mainstreamed with Grade 11 and 12 students. Academically, smaller schools generally produce students well prepared for secondary school because they have had all important teacher time in an environment appropriate to their age level. They also have more¬†opportunities to begin experiencing leadership roles as the ‘senior’ students in a small school.

Parent anxiety about their child gaining entry to selective secondary schools can be the primary reason for leaving the benefits inherent in a small senior elementary program. If a private secondary school offers an elementary program that feeds the high school, they will want to take students as soon as possible to secure their secondary enrolment. This has made it difficult for many small schools I have worked with as the high schools siphon off students at Grades 5 and 7 or wherever they add a section of students to their enrolment.

Parents take a position earlier, not because they doubt their small school, but they are afraid of space scarcity at the Grade 9 entry level. In these instances, I suggest families contact the high school and ask about the typical profile of a student gaining entry at Grade 9 and ask about the projected number of spaces that will be available. A good number of our Grade 9 day students come from three small private elementary schools. Often, the Directors of the schools can give a family a good idea of whether their child is on a path to be admitted to a particular independent high school or whether they might be better to try to gain entrance to the school at Grade 5, 6 or 7 because they may not be strong enough for Grade 9 competition.

One of the indicators of the strength of a small school is the number of their ‘graduates’ who have gone on to selective¬†entry high schools.

What about the sports and the dances? Ask, is the sports program at the bigger school better than you can find in your community for this age group? For the truly athletic, community athletics up until at least the varsity high school level are going to be essential for a student with college bound or greater aspirations. I have yet to meet the school Director who has solved the small school challenge of holding a dance with a dozen Grade 8 classmates that doesn’t feel like dancing with your sister or brother.

Choosing an independent school – respect deadlines but don’t feel you need to jump the gun

While searching for a boarding or day school, many parents and students get anxious and cloud their judgement by perceiving pressure or a need to conclude a process as quickly as possible (maybe just to be done with the stress of the search). My advice would be to remember that ultimately, the choice rests with a family over which school to attend.

Ideally, a family should try to manage their various admission processes to coincide with one another. If say you have decided to apply to three schools, try to end up sitting with all three of your decisions at the same time so that you can make a decision without the pressure of conflicting response times.

Toronto Day Schools/USA Common Offer Dates

Toronto day schools and many US boarding schools coordinate their offer dates to coincide with one another to help them manage their admission process. It also helps families to end up sitting with all of their offers at the same time. Many schools offer a re-visit day prior to the response required date (usually a week to ten days for day schools and about a month for boarding). These schools also have specific application deadlines to be met!

If you are also planning on applying to a boarding school with a ‘rolling’ admission process (no set application date), as a back up, or you just aren’t sure about readiness for boarding while also applying to local day programs, ask the boarding school if applying to coincide with the day decision date is possible, i.e. would you lose out on a space if you waited to apply for boarding. Most schools should be straight forward with you. While we like to complete our enrolment as soon as we can each year, we all begin to run out of spaces at different times of the year. Most often, this coincides with the location of the school and their specific enrolment practices, e.g. do they have all of their day students complete a year of mandatory boarding, or are they recruiting a small number of students a year due to the relative size of their boarding program, etc. Hopefully it will work in your favour to have all of your offers in your hands at the same time.

Accepting multiple offers (sacrificing deposits to ensure choice)

A practice that is not uncommon is accepting multiple offers from schools because they are all on different timetables. For example, while at a former school it was not uncommon to have a family accept an offer from the Canadian school in January when they really wanted a school in New England that didn’t make its offers until March 10. In order to hedge their bets the family paid a non-refundable deposit to hold the Canadian space until they heard from the school in the US. My advice would be to speak to the Director of Admission and ask if you can have an extension on the reply date until after the other school’s offer date. This accomplishes two things, it lets the first school better manage its enrolment and second, it also lets the first school know that you may need more information to better assess the Canada v. US school choice. In the end, you are going to end up making a decision based on what is best for the student without duress and with ample information.

If there is no possibility of extending an offer because of a tight enrolment picture, then families sometimes do need to be prepared to lose a deposit to keep their options open. Again, it may not hurt to inform an Admission Director you are prepared to do this. The chance of having your money refunded is greater this way if it is not a surprise in April when the Admission Director is scrambling to fill the space you have just created by withdrawing. Most schools want students to get into the school they feel is the best fit for them and will be understanding of your final decision.

Playing one school against another

A final scenario is more common in situations where student athletes are involved, many families view their son or daughter as the next CIS or NCAA champion or professional sports star and, like an agent, feel they should be trying to get them the “best deal.” Certainly, a student that brings a special talent in athletics, academics, or arts to a school is a desirable thing.

As a former head of admissions at two competitive boys schools, it was not uncommon for parents to be shopping their son around to multiple schools. Most schools use the same third party financial assistance process and should come back to the family with a similar offer (Apple Financial Services in Canada and SSS by NAIS in the US). What usually backfires on a family is saying School X is offering $X in financial assistance and looking for more assistance from a second school.

Ultimately schools want students to make decisions based on where they most want to be and where they feel they will do their best both academically and athletically. If parents have a firm amount of money in mind that they can afford, they should be upfront with a school about this amount. Sometimes the difference between what a family wants to pay and what they can actually afford does not match. Often, the family feeling their child is a commodity, feel they should be compensated to have their child attend a school and are disappointed with the financial assistance recommendation. Some schools will pay for play, however many CAIS schools have Boards of Directors to answer to with specific policies regarding their endowed funds supporting only needs-based financial assistance. These schools often have a higher academic level compared to the schools that offer “sports scholarships” v. “needs-based financial assistance”. This can be difficult for families to understand that the way to an NCAA scholarship also has an academic component, it is not just about playing the sport. What seems like a deal or free may not qualify their child academically to attend the school of their dreams.

Most Admission Directors and Directors of Financial Assistance I know refuse to get into a bidding war. We prefer that it come down to a family decision about where they feel their child’s needs and hopes will be served best. Many times, I have been “out bid” with respect to a student and ultimately had the family choose my school because it was where the student really wanted to be. This student and family came more invested because they were having to pay a little more, make a few more sacrifices, and ultimately wanted to be there. This is the scenario that most often works out best for all involved and contributes to Admission Directors avoiding bidding wars.